7 Ways Anne of Green Gables Prepared Me for Homeschooling

(I’m joining in this week with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for 7 (not so) Quick Takes. You can visit the other posts in this link-up here!)

When it comes to figuring out this life of mine, particularly the homeschooling aspect, sometimes I feel like I’m navigating without a roadmap — and if you know me, you know I’m absolutely dependent on GPS for my continued survival. I enjoyed a fairly conventional suburban childhood and attended public school straight through. Lucky for me I had Anne of Green Gables to prepare me for home educating my kids.

  1. “Scope for the imagination” is essential.

Of course the very act of reading the Anne books for the first time could have taught me this, but Anne herself is an avid reader, too, shaped by the books she reads and sensitive to the beauty in the world all around her. Fostering this awareness in my children is a big part of my goal as an educator. And the culture I create for our family is a big part of that. Compare Anne’s background with her introduction to her new home at Green Gables:

They were good, you know—the asylum people. But there is so little scope for the imagination in an asylum.

versus

She opened her eyes and looked about her. They were on the crest of a hill. The sun had set some time since, but the landscape was still clear in the mellow afterlight. To the west a dark church spire rose up against a marigold sky. Below was a little valley and beyond a long, gently-rising slope with snug farmsteads scattered along it. From one to another the child’s eyes darted, eager and wistful. At last they lingered on one away to the left, far back from the road, dimly white with blossoming trees in the twilight of the surrounding woods. Over it, in the stainless southwest sky, a great crystal-white star was shining like a lamp of guidance and promise.

Montgomery’s nature descriptions are always top-notch, and a good reminder that “scope for the imagination” is a necessary ingredient in lessons and life — in everything from a reading culture to my feeble gardening attempts.

2. Time outside can’t be overvalued.

Anne had her “good” summer and enjoyed it wholeheartedly. She and Diana fairly lived outdoors, reveling in all the delights that Lover’s Lane and the Dryad’s Bubble and Willowmere and Victoria Island afforded. Marilla offered no objections to Anne’s gypsyings. […] Anne had the golden summer of her life as far as freedom and frolic went. She walked, rowed, berried, and dreamed to her heart’s content; and when September came she was bright-eyed and alert. […]

“I feel just like studying with might and main,” she declared as she brought her books down from the attic. “Oh, you good old friends, I’m glad to see your honest faces once more–yes, even you, geometry. I’ve had a perfectly beautiful summer, Marilla, and now I’m rejoicing as a strong man to run a race.”

Time outside also helps me to handle my wild tribe: after a bit of running and romping, they’re more ready to settle down. I struggle to be patient with high volumes, and so getting them out of an enclosed space when they’re being noisy also helps me to keep my temper.

3. Helping out around the house is good for a kid.

It’s kind of just the deal: having three kids at home all day underfoot while we homeschool makes more mess than if they were being corralled for eight hours a day elsewhere. My kids are learning to help more with housework than other kids might, and certainly more than I did. And Anne reminds me that that’s ok. Learning to care for yourself and others is an important part of an education, and something we seem to forget nowadays.

Certainly at their current ages their help is sometimes less than, you know, helpful, so I brace myself for the inevitable mishaps:

But I forgot the flour and the cake was a dismal failure. Flour is so essential to cakes, you know.

Still, I’m pretty sure I’ll thank myself in a few years when they have higher rates of success. Even if we do wind up with mouse pudding.

4. You can teach even the subjects you loathe.

Maybe you remember how Anne felt about geometry:

In geometry Anne met her Waterloo. “It’s perfectly awful stuff, Marilla,” she groaned. “I’m sure I’ll never be able to make head or tail of it. There is no scope for imagination in it at all.”

And yet she goes on to teach it for years, until she can finally retire her old copy of Euclid “a trifle vindictively.” But sometimes, as I learned in my very slow-paced Math for Poets college course, going back over a dreaded subject more slowly can end up rehabilitating it for me.  Teaching can give many opportunities for learning to love a dreaded subject.

5. Pay attention to habits.

Miss Stacy took all us girls who are in our teens down to the brook last Wednesday, and talked to us about it. She said we couldn’t be too careful what habits we formed and what ideals we acquired in our teens, because by the time we were twenty our characters would be developed and the foundation laid for our whole future life. And she said if the foundation was shaky we could never build anything really worth while on it. Diana and I talked the matter over coming home from school. We felt extremely solemn, Marilla. And we decided that we would try to be very careful indeed and form respectable habits and learn all we could and be as sensible as possible, so that by the time we were twenty our characters would be properly developed.

Here’s another point of connection with Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy: it’s not enough to just focus on academic skills. We are shaping persons, and moral formation is an aspect of that. L.M. Montgomery returns to the theme in Anne of the Island:

Miss Stacy told me long ago that by the time I was twenty my character would be formed, for good or evil. I don’t feel that it’s what it should be. It’s full of flaws.”

“So’s everybody’s,” said Aunt Jamesina cheerfully. “Mine’s cracked in a hundred places. Your Miss Stacy likely meant that when you are twenty your character would have got its permanent bent in one direction or ‘tother, and would go on developing in that line. Don’t worry over it, Anne. Do your duty by God and your neighbor and yourself, and have a good time. That’s my philosophy and it’s always worked pretty well.”

Youth is a pivotal time to set good habits, but we are all growing all the time — even those of us doing the educating. And what a relief that is!

6. An eager student can overcome even a bad teacher, but a good teacher can work wonders.

If Mr. Phillips, preoccupied is he in flirting with one of his students, had managed to control his classroom properly, Gilbert wouldn’t have idly teased Anne, earning her enmity for years to come. But Mr. Phillips did neglect his duties, Anne did break a slate over Gilbert’s head, and  a great rivalry spurred them both on academically, even with lackluster teaching. So think what a dramatic improvement little Avonlea school experiences when Miss Stacy restores order to the classroom and “the Friday afternoons they don’t have recitations Miss Stacy takes them all to the woods for a ‘field’ day and they study ferns and flowers and birds.” We should bring that joy to our students whenever we can, but rest in the knowledge that even when we’re having a Mr. Phillips day, learning is still happening.

7. Similarly — you’re going to get into scrapes — but they’ll make funny stories later.

Remember Anne’s infamous sinking rowboat episode? That started from a school lesson gone awry:

They had studied Tennyson’s poem in school the preceding winter, the Superintendent of Education having prescribed it in the English course for the Prince Edward Island schools. They had analyzed and parsed it and torn it to pieces in general until it was a wonder there was any meaning at all left in it for them, but at least the fair lily maid and Lancelot and Guinevere and King Arthur had become very real people to them, and Anne was devoured by secret regret that she had not been born in Camelot.

“Lancelot and Guinevere and King Arthur had become very real people to them” — what a sign of a good education! This is theoretically my third year homeschooling, but it’s only now starting to get more serious (and I suspect I’ll be saying the same thing for years). My kids can no doubt already point to my many homeschooling failures, but all I can hope is that in the end they’re left with contended memories of an education both broad and warm.

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